In the nearly twenty years since mixed martial arts first entered cultural milieu of worldwide sports, MMA has evolved from a competition rooted in blood and violence into one of the most sophisticated and physically demanding sports in the world.
MMA has become the fastest growing sport on the planet, as the development of the Unified Rules of mixed martial arts has led to an unprecedented rise of dedicated MMA gyms and facilities. Still, many up-and-coming athletes are unsure of how to start training and launch their professional careers.
With MMA now on the rise in China, domestic fighters are finally being afforded the same opportunities as their foreign counterparts, and although many people are hesitant allow their children to train fulltime, the upcoming RUFF 2013 RMB 1,000,000 Super Fight on February 2 has the potential to attract a whole new generation of Chinese MMA athletes.
“Begin MMA education with Judo . . . because it gives kids a great introduction to takedowns, ground control, and basic submissions; with many rules that reduce the risk of injury,” states Xi’An Sports University’s Vaughn Anderson, who is currently coaching four RUFF Super Fight competitors: Wang Guan, Zhang MeiXuan, Li JiXiang, and Jumabieke Tuerxun. “There are plenty of competitions, and that experience becomes transferable when they step into the cage later in life. The belt system in judo also gives kids motivation and a feeling of accomplishment.”
At 19 years of age, RUFF flyweight Liu PingYuan is already a seasoned MMA veteran, and the youngest athlete to qualify for the RUFF Super Fight, China’s first MMA national championship event. Starting his MMA career when he was just 16 years old, Liu PingYuan endured through numerous losses to more experienced opponents, dropping his first two contests inside the RUFF cage.
Given his youth and determination, Liu PingYuan was able to learn from his setbacks in competition, improving his Jiu Jitsu and refining his boxing with help from coach and mentor Ao HaiLin, going on a four-fight win streak that earned him a berth in the Super Fight. A role model for all aspiring athletes, Liu PingYuan offers that young fighters need to make sure they have the nerves for professional competition before committing to a life of training.
“I think [fighters] should first overcome their own heart,” explains Liu. “Then they can train wrestling and boxing before starting to compete.”
Another Super Fight competitor, featherweight Wu ChengJie, began fighting competitive MMA at just 18 years of age, making the transition from Sanda to mixed martial arts. Now 21, Wu, is set to face off against Wang Guan at the Super Fight for the right to hoist China’s first 66 kg MMA national championship belt.
Wu ChengJie, like many young fighters, endured numerous losses early on in his fighting career. However, after signing with RUFF in 2012, he quickly put together a three-fight winning streak, as his fighting style blossomed, evolving from a more striking-based approach to a ground and pound assault.
“MMA is the least restrictive of any fighting and combat sports,” offers Wu ChengJie. “Training should be tailored to each person according to their own characteristics.”
Still, for many, the thought of a professional MMA career is a radical concept, as young Chinese athletes are skeptical about sports that fall outside of the Olympic system. There is also the requisite family pressure, parents often unsupportive of their children’s decisions to fight for a living.
“Family support is a huge factor in many fighter’s success,” adds Anderson, whose pupils number in the dozens. “Families should help in the development of athletic skill as much as they help with school work.”
One of the few RUFF athletes with children of his own, light heavyweight Super Fight competitor Zhao ZiLong rose to prominence through the Chinese national Sanda system, developing his skills to a championship caliber.
Zhao, while currently focused on his upcoming Super Fight matchup with Li JiXiang, also coaches young fighters in Xi’An, imparting the same lessons on his students that he learned from coach Zhao XueJun a decade earlier. Regularly faced with questions from up-and-coming teenagers, Zhao ZiLong stresses maturity and psychological stability as necessary attributes for aspiring fighters.
“I recommend young people [examine] their physical health. MMA in real life is a self-protection exercise,” states Zhao ZiLong. “Psychological qualities, temperment, and lots of quality good exercise are important.”Although RUFF rules state that competitors must be 18 years old to compete inside the RUFF cage, MMA training and development can potentially start at a very young age, with various disciplines of martials arts like Judo, Sanda, Taekwondo, and Jiu Jitsu. Mastery of these martial art forms, combined with increasing opportunities to fight professionally has the potential to attract a brand new generation of Chinese MMA athletes.